I have received multiple comments over the last two weeks that prove I have not been nearly as clear as I’d hoped to be with reference to John Piper and Salvation Sola Fide. (I am a pretty rough writer, I know.) They are generally of the sort, “Piper does not teach that we are Justified by works, but by faith alone,” or “Piper says all the time that good works are simply the fruits and evidences of faith, just like we do,” or “Piper teaches that all who are Justified will in fact be saved on the Last Day—no exceptions.” What makes this so difficult is that I agree with each of these statements. I have never questioned these nor claimed that Piper thinks otherwise. Though we do disagree in some measure on the meaning of the terms, and explicitly on the implications of the concepts, I am positive that all in this discussion agree on the following very important propositions:
Proposition 1. Justification is by faith alone.
Proposition 2. The faith which Justifies is never alone, though it is not the works that Justify.
Proposition 3. All who are Justified through faith will certainly be Glorified (or Finally Saved).
So let me be very clear, there is no doubt in my mind that John Piper affirms the above three propositions. But the disagreement does not arise from these. To my lights, the disagreement is to be found around the differing models of how one gets from Proposition 1 to Proposition 3. As I see it, there are two differing models at play here. I consider Model One below to be the Biblical view as found in the Reformed Confessions, Catechisms, and tradition. Model Two I consider to be at odds with these, but nevertheless not entirely uncommon. (I will stick with the language of “models” throughout so as not to lump Piper in with positions he may not actually fit.)
What is required of man, from the Garden of Eden to the Final Judgement, is and has always been “perfect and personal obedience” (WCF 7.2). Nothing short of this is required by God to be righteous now, and nothing short of this will be required for entering into eternal Glory—perfect, personal, and complete obedience. Yet all have fallen short of this and have both personal guilt before God and inherited corruption. Christ has answered this two-fold evil by receiving the full wrath of God against sin (according to simple justice) and by fulfilling perfectly the righteous demands of the Law in His life and passion. Thus, all who are united to Christ by faith (“in Christ”) receive this two-fold grace answering to the two-fold evil found “in Adam.” Faith alone is the instrument of this union with Christ and is the sole instrument and means of apprehending Christ with all His benefits and merit (HC #20). Therefore, by faith alone one will be saved at the Last Day according to the same righteousness and merit of Christ had now in Justification. The requirement at the beginning of Salvation is identical to the requirement at the end: perfect and personal obedience, either ours or Christ’s. Justification simply is that present declaration of future Salvation, according to simple justice at the Throne of God. (Or we may prefer to say with Turretin that the future verdict is just the declaration at the end of what is already true at the beginning by Justification.)
Good works are necessary “to” salvation as they are in fact part of salvation itself; it is no salvation at all if it leaves one in the misery of bondage to sin and the Devil. But good works are not necessary “for” salvation, that is, not necessary as a proper condition of Salvation, for faith alone apprehends the required perfect merit of Christ. (Even our best works are stained with sin cannot pay the ever increasing debt.) Good works will be presented at the last day as a public vindication of the righteousness of God in declaring His Justified saints “not guilty” and “perfectly righteous” in Christ. In fact, good works are the fruits and evidences of true faith—that faith which alone apprehends Christ and all His benefits. And last, good works are indeed the necessary path that must be walked to Glory, in the same way in which we say, “we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God,” not as a proper condition, but as the ordained path. As Calvin puts it: “Those whom in mercy [God] has destined for the inheritance of eternal life, he, in his ordinary administration, introduces to the possession of it by means of good works,” not as causes or conditions proper, but rather as “the Lord adding grace to grace, tak[ing] occasion from a former to add a subsequent, so that he may omit no means of enriching his servants” (Institutes, 3.14.21).
Much of the above holds true in Model Two. But, to begin with, there never was a Covenant that offered life on condition of perfect and personal obedience. What was required of Adam, Christ, and now us was never merit of any sort, nor earning of any sort. Faith-obedience has always been the only requirement. Life simply cannot be earned nor can it be properly considered a reward for obedience—not even for Christ Himself. Christ nevertheless did bear the punishment due for sin and lived a perfect life of faith before God His Father. This righteousness is imputed to us in Justification. In our justification we now have “God for us” rather than “God against us” by union with Christ. And again, this Justification is received by faith alone.
But faith is just one of many proper conditions that must be met in order to receive final Salvation. Personal Covenant keeping is also required to be saved on the Last Day. But fortunately for this model, faith itself not only apprehends Christ’s righteousness, but faith itself also affords personal Covenant keeping before God—not because it apprehends Christ’s perfect merit on the believers’ behalf, but because faith itself, by definition, includes love for God. A heart that loves God is that which is and was always (Old and New Covenant) required to be considered a Covenant keeper. Covenant keeping explicitly does not require perfect obedience, but rather genuine love, fear, and reliance upon God—which are included in faith. The death of Christ covers what is lacking. Thus, the first condition for Salvation is faith; faith is that which alone Justifies. But faith itself includes love for God and thus meets the second condition, personal Covenant keeping.
But what of outward and active obedience toward God and man, i.e., good works? These are also proper and necessary conditions for Final Salvation. But fortunately (again) having faith in, or love for God produces the required neighbor love in the heart as well—so long as one continues in this love. Though faith alone is the proper condition of Justification, faith and love are ultimately proper conditions for Final Salvation on the Last Day. Yes, these good works are the fruits, evidences, and demonstrations of faith, showing it to be genuine, but they are likewise necessary conditions to receive Final Salvation. Though this may seem to place Salvation itself in the works of man, it does not (it is argued), for (1) God does not require perfect obedience, but rather faith-obedience or evangelical obedience; and (2) God will grant all of the obedience necessary to fulfill the conditions required for final salvation. “Sufficient fruit” will be required and “sufficient fruit” will also be granted. But it is all of grace and none of merit.
To be clear, this Salvation of the justified can really be forfeited, but it never will be. God in His infinite grace will grant perseverance to all His elect. It is all of grace (so it is argued), one grace following upon another as each condition is met in turn, moving from Justification through Sanctification to Final Salvation. Piper writes,
God has committed himself to supply the elect with the grace to seek God in prayer, which brings down the additional grace to meet the condition of faith, that brings down the additional grace to meet the condition of holiness, that brings the additional grace of final glory. (Future Grace, VI.19)
John Piper Teaches Model Two
It is simple to demonstrate that Model Two is in fact what John Piper teaches. Just read Future Grace, especially chapters 18 through 20. The above is actually just a brief summary of those chapters. (See also the many quotes in my articles HERE and HERE.) But I would like to reiterate and emphasize two points noted above by quoting Piper. First, it is paramount that we understand that for Piper, fruit, evidence, and demonstration of faith mean that good works are proper conditions and requirements to be saved in the end. In the following analogy from Future Grace, Piper attempts to make himself clear:
Consider an analogy. Suppose that you live in a village where electricity is supplied by a generator on a nearby hill. Each evening the owner of the generator regulates which houses receive the power. He gives two conditions for receiving power for the lamps in your house. First, he says, “If you plug the cord into the socket firmly, you will tap into the power of the electricity for your light.” And second, he says, “If I see light in the house, I will keep the power flowing to your house, but if I do not see any light for a while, I will assume you are not home and turn off the power to your house.”
In this analogy, plugging into the power is the condition of believing in the promises of God. It connects you with the power of future grace. That’s the primary condition of future grace. But there is another condition. If you do not plug in the lamps and there is no light, the power source will be cut off. This light in the house is the secondary condition of loving others. You don’t have light first in order to get power. Your light proves that the lamp is plugged in. And your love proves that your faith is genuine—that you are really connected to God as one who is satisfied with all that he is for you in Jesus. The light and the love are both conditions of future grace. If God sees that you don’t have them, he will know that you are not plugging into the power of future grace by faith; and he will tell you that such lightlessness and lovelessness will not be given the benefits of future grace.
Thus faith and love are conditions of future grace[…]. (Future Grace, VI.20)
Yes, we can quote dozens (if not hundreds) of places wherein Piper says that good works are simply fruits, evidences, and demonstrations of true faith. But when he uses those words, he uses them quite differently than in Model One. These evidences are also proper conditions for Future Salvation according to Piper—and explicitly so.
Next, Piper attempts to maintain Salvation Sola Gratia, not by arguing that the merits of Christ alone will save in the end, but by arguing that the sufficient fruit required will be graciously supplied:
God establishes our location through faith alone. But he has ordained that it be fitting for the location to have a demonstration in the world. This is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is necessary, not optional. That is, Jesus assumes that if there is no demonstration of our location in God’s favor, then the location does not exist. Jesus says this demonstration is necessary for final salvation (as we say, going to heaven), because God wills to be glorified both for the grace of establishing our location in his eternal favor once for all and for the grace of supplying the help we need to demonstrate this location by our conduct. None who is located by faith in God’s invincible favor will fail to have all that is necessary to demonstrate this in life.
The assurance that our demonstration will be infallibly enabled by God rests on numerous realities. For example, (1) Jesus promises that nothing can snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28- 29). (2) He promises that a Helper will come and not leave us to ourselves in this battle (John 14:16, 26; 15:26). (3) Jesus himself promises to be with us to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). (4) Jesus prays that our faith will not fail and that the Father will keep us (Luke 22:32; John 17:11, 15). (5) Jesus assumes imperfection and makes provision for it (Matt. 6:12). (6) Jesus taught that what is required of us, even when it is impossible from our side, is not impossible with God (Matt. 19:26). (7) What is required in our demonstration is that there be evidence of God-given life, not flawlessness. These and other truths give us assurance that God’s work in our lives will bring about the grace-exalting demonstration required in the last day.
[…] The picture Jesus used to illustrate the necessity of demonstration is the picture of a tree and its fruit. “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt. 7:17-19). When he says that “a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit,” he does not mean that no follower of his ever sins. The natural way of thinking about the present tense of a Greek verb like “bear” is “go on bearing.” So Jesus would be saying, “A healthy tree cannot go on bearing bad fruit.” In other words, a tree is cut down not for bad fruit here and there. It is cut down for producing so much bad fruit that there is no evidence that the tree is good. What God will require at the judgment is not our perfection, but sufficient fruit to show that the tree had life—in our case, divine life. (What Jesus Demands from the World, pp. 210-211)
THIS is the Disagreement with Piper
Can you not see that this is a different model than that found in our Confessions and Catechisms? It is one thing to say that one will be saved on the Last Day because Christ has met, on our behalf, all the conditions of perfect righteousness required by God; it is quite another thing to say that one will be saved on the Last Day because one has personally met the conditions of faith and sufficient fruit, even though both are by God’s grace. The former can unequivocally say that we are saved by faith alone, since faith alone apprehends what is justly required by God: perfect, personal, and complete obedience. But the latter cannot say that we are Saved by faith alone, even if we were previously Justified by faith alone. Why? Because on Model Two we are Finally Saved by faith and fruit.
To be 100% clear: just because Piper confesses that every justified believer will in fact see heaven does not mean that it is not faith plus works that get him there. On Model Two, God requires faith and works to be Finally Saved, but God graciously grants to the justified works sufficient to guarantee that outcome.
Now, one may find himself agreeing with one or the other of these two models and one may even have many quotes from the tradition that seem to support one or the other. But what no one can justifiably say is that they are actually the same model. And this is what originally goaded me into this discussion. Seeing Piper write an article arguing for what he has always believed is not particularly exciting (though I do believe it to be dangerous). But what was actually disturbing was seeing many of his Reformed and Presbyterian defenders arguing that Model Two really just is Model One, but in different words. That is, they claim that Piper is just saying what the best lights of the Reformed tradition and their Confessions have always said. What? No. Though many of the words and phrases may seem similar, these models are demonstrably distinct. And this distinction is precisely the disagreement between Piper and his critics.
 For the skeptical, I have provided a number of quotes below from the chapters in question, to show that I am not just making this all up.
In this book, the term condition carries the simple dictionary definition, “Something essential to the appearance or occurrence of something else: prerequisite.”
There are many conditions for Salvation:
Take, for example, the precious promise of Romans 8:28 that we considered in chapter 9. It contains an all-encompassing promise of future grace, namely, that God will work all things together for your good. But this magnificent promise, which has carried millions of believers through the darkest times, is doubly conditional. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The first condition is that we must love God; the second condition is that we must be called according to God’s purpose. A vast, eternal panorama of future grace is summed up in the promise that God will work all things for our good. And all this future grace is conditional.
Fulfilling the conditions does not imply merit:
[T]hat fulfilling conditions does not imply earning anything or meriting anything. Grace is still free, even when it is conditional. There is such a thing as unmerited, conditional grace. Do not equate meeting conditions of grace with earning or meriting grace. “Earning grace” would indeed be a contradiction in terms, like “hot snow” or “verdant desert.”
There are at least two reasons that conditional grace is free and unmerited. We have seen them already in chapter 5. First, conditional grace is free and unmerited because the nature of the condition—faith—is such that it calls attention to God’s free bounty and our helpless need. Faith doesn’t earn. Faith banks on gifts of future grace. Second, conditional grace is free and unmerited because ultimately the condition of faith is a gift of grace. God graciously enables the conditions that he requires.
The first conditions are met by faith, because faith includes love:
Therefore, the two conditions of Romans 8:28 are simply clarifications of what it really means to trust God for this great promise of future grace. Trusting him for this promise is not merely believing that he will work for your good. You can believe that and be wrong. It means looking through the promise to the One who promises, and by grace—that is, by his sovereign call—apprehending in him the spiritual worth and beauty that will go on satisfying your heart forever; and then embracing that beauty as your chief treasure above all that the world can give. This is the meaning of loving God, and this is the essence of faith in future grace. When you have this faith—when you fulfill this condition by God’s gracious call—God works all things together for your good. The promise of future grace is conditional. But it is not earned. And it is not merited.
Both the Old and New Covenants were/are conditional covenants, but never demanded perfection:
Keeping the covenant of God did not mean living perfectly. It meant a life of habitual devotion and trust and love to the Lord, one that turned from evil and followed him in his ways. When there was a shortcoming, a covenant-keeping person remembered the words of the covenant on Mount Sinai (“The LORD [is] merciful and gracious … forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” Exodus 34:6–7) and repented and offered a sacrifice and received forgiveness and restoration.
When the Old Testament says that covenant-keeping is the condition for receiving God’s steadfast love, that’s what it meant. It did not imply perfection. “The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting … to those who keep his covenant” (Psalm 103:17–18). “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10). Both the old covenant and the new covenant are conditional covenants of grace. They offer all-sufficient future grace for those who keep the covenant.
God will provide the grace for the Covenant to be fulfilled in us:
This covenant-keeping condition of future grace does not mean we lose security or assurance, for God has pledged himself to complete the work he began in the elect (Philippians 1:6). He is at work within us to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12–13). He works in us what is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:21). He fulfills the conditions of the covenant through us (Ezekiel 36:27). Our security is as secure as God is faithful.
But what it does mean is that almost all future blessings of the Christian life are conditional on our covenant-keeping.
I say “almost” because at the deepest root of our lives, the grace to keep us seeking God is an unconditional work of God causing us to endure to the end and be saved. When we are about to forsake the faith, the last decisive impulse that turns our hearts back to God is the ongoing keeping power of God. It is conditional in the sense that God is committed to do it only in those who are justified by faith. But it is unconditional in the sense that the ongoing pursuit of God depends ultimately on God’s keeping power, not vice versa. God has committed himself to supply the elect with the grace to seek God in prayer, which brings down the additional grace to meet the condition of faith, that brings down the additional grace to meet the condition of holiness, that brings the additional grace of final glory.
God’s blessings are conditional:
Notice that there are conditions we meet in order to receive God’s guidance (v. 9), God’s steadfast love (v. 10), God’s instruction (v. 12), and God’s protection (v. 20). But all this condition-keeping is done by “sinners” (vv. 8, 11). And notice that these covenant-keeping sinners who receive God’s guidance and protection are being preserved by their “integrity and uprightness” (v. 21)! In other words, even though we sin every day in various ways,2 there is a profound difference between sinners who keep God’s covenant (v. 10), and sinners who don’t. The issue facing us in the light of this psalm is whether we “wait for [the LORD]” (v. 21) and “take refuge in [him]” (v. 20) and “fear” him (v. 12) and are “humble” before him (v. 9) and, in this way, “keep his covenant” (v. 10). These are the sinners whom God will guide and protect.
For those who have been called into the fellowship of Christ, the ocean of future grace is free, inexhaustible, unmerited, unearned—and conditional. This is not a contradiction.
Faith and love fulfill all of the conditions:
[A]s you meditate on these ten conditions, they begin to look less and less like separate and distinct requirements, and more and more like different ways of describing the heart of faith. This is, in fact, what I think is the case. The heart that is satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus is characterized by all these things. All these acts of the heart are overlapping realities with saving faith. Faith is not identical with any of them; nor they with faith. But elements of each are woven into what faith is.
What we did not look at in the previous chapter are the conditions of future grace that involve outward actions toward other people, as well as inner acts of the soul toward God. These conditions are not part of faith’s essence.
Future resurrection and inheritance of Kingdom depend on meeting the conditions:
Jesus said that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will … come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28–29). So the future grace of resurrection to life is given to those who have done good deeds. On the flip side of this promise is the warning about doing evil deeds: “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). The future grace of inheriting the kingdom is contingent on not practicing the works of the flesh.
Outward active conditions are not fulfilled by faith itself, but by love for others:
These added conditions of future grace are different from the ten that we saw in the previous chapter. They are actions or attitudes toward other people, not just inner acts of the heart toward God.
What we have seen, then, is that the ten conditions of future grace discussed in the previous chapter are all summed up in faith. And the behavioral conditions we have just discussed are all summed up in love. Which means we may now say that the conditions a Christian must meet, to go on enjoying the blessings of future grace, are faith and love.
I conclude from this that it is not an accident that one set of conditions for future grace is summed up by faith and the other is summed up by love. This seems to be the way the apostles saw it.
These conditions also do not require perfection:
The condition of future grace is not perfect love, but real love. The Puritans used to speak of a new “principle” of love in the heart. This new principle is there in the heart as soon as we are born again. The behaviors of love are the out-workings of this principle of love, rooted in the soil of faith.
Good works are evidence of true faith, but are also conditions of future grace:
There is a second thing we need to remember when the Bible mentions loving others as a condition of future grace. We must keep in mind that love relates to faith as evidence to origin. Love is the necessary evidence of faith. Faith apprehends and embraces the spiritual beauty and worth of all that God is for us in the promises of future grace. This spiritual awakening to the glory of God in the promises is the means by which God unites us to Christ and to the Spirit’s flow of future grace. But this kind of faith inevitably “works through love” (Galatians 5:6), so that love confirms the authenticity of faith.
So the Bible sometimes makes love the condition of the ongoing and final experience of future grace.
And finally, the analogy quoted in the body of this post is given by Piper to explain the above.